Ashes 2015: Stuart Broad - A tall tale that has turned into stuff of legend

Broad took 8 for 15 in glorious spell

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The Sydney Morning Herald quickly christened it “Pomicide” and though the black humour about Australia’s total had a rich seam – it was the innings, for example, that could be written down, ball for ball, within the 140 characters of a tweet – there was something seriously significant about what Stuart Broad delivered and what it might do for the way he comes to be judged.

Nasser Hussain observed with typical acuity that Broad’s struggle to be taken to the hearts of the nation like Jimmy Anderson – as he should be – is borne of his cussed personality. There is ego. There can be a vanity about his reluctance, as a bowler, to defer to a captain’s choice of field. There is the dog’s abuse he will inflict on fielders who cause a blot on his figures. There are not generally any pleasantries when he walks past you in the mornings. He’s never out until the replays compel him to leave.

Yet the mesmerising and belief-defying spectacle he offered up here was the apotheosis of a summer in which Broad has laid claim to be not merely a very good player but a great one. It was a 1981 or 2005 moment he gave us – a day truly to say “I was there” – and heaven knows this Ashes summer, a series of desperately unequal contests, had been crying out for one.

Of course, it is in the teeth of adversity, not on a green and pleasant track, that you learn most about an individual. That is why what we saw from Broad on that interminably flat wicket at Lord’s three weeks ago was even more instructive than the sight of him cutting away Australia from the kneecaps; scything through fully eight of them in the span of 58 balls.

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Stuart Broad was shocked by Ben Stokes' catch

There have been times when Broad would not have possessed the appetite for that kind of Lord’s experience, where his pace would have dropped and his length dipped. Instead, he travelled the hard yards across 27 accurate overs. Four wickets were his reward. That day told us that something quite exceptional might be coming from the outstanding English bowler of this summer.

 

It seemed preordained to happen at this place – so much his home that the backdrop to Michael Clarke’s last net sessions on Wednesday afternoon included the posters exhorting support for the charity, established to fund research into motor neurone disease, which has been set up in the memory of Broad’s beloved stepmother Miche.

Though the family were here to witness their boy saunter into history, Broad’s sense of place provided all the incentive he needed to join Anderson, Ian Botham, Bob Willis and Fred Trueman in the small pantheon of Englishmen who have taken 300 Test wickets.

 It didn’t take long to join them. Broad said earlier this week that England had to “make sure that we are right on the money for those first 20 balls. Our batsmen always say to us those first 20 balls are the most dangerous time.” At that self-appointed landmark of his, Australia were 19 for 4 and Broad had removed three – Chris Rodgers, Steve Smith and Shaun Marsh – for the concession of six runs.

For only the fifth time in his Test career he did not have Anderson alongside him, yet no matter. He landed the ball smack on the seam with the consistency of a metronome, tracing a line around and off the outside edge.

Broad’s father, Chris, suggested that the “synergy” between his son and England’s bowling coach Ottis Gibson had helped, specifically Gibson’s suggestion that the 29-year-old open up his hips on delivery, allowing him to rip the ball through at greater speed. But there is something more subliminal than that: a temperament which imbues this player with an ability to deliver when it counts. After the punishment he had received in Australia last time, Broad knew.

Australia helped him. Their captain is so shot through with insecurity that he evidently did not even want to win the toss today. Michael Clarke called against his lucky “tails” and consigned himself to fate. There was something incredibly telling in that gesture and so, too, in his swish of the bat which saw Broad lever him out, too. It was nothing less than an abdication and Clarke may now not even wait until the conclusion of the fifth Test before declaring that he will stand down.

Frankly, Cricket Australia’s obsession with producing the conditions to prepare technically for last winter’s tour of India obscured them to the task of readying a squad for the challenges English pitches would bring.

No one in Australia saw this coming. So total was the conviction that England would be pushed aside that Cricket Australia purposefully sought to douse the optimism ahead of the tour. By midday, when six wickets had fallen and the batsmen still went hard at the ball, a solitary forward defensive stroke had been offered.

The cold truth for the country which finds itself on the receiving end is that this is the best group of players available to Australia, give or take. They could have helped themselves by selecting Peter Siddle, whose omission is criminal on a pitch such as this. He is a yard shorter on pace than the Siddle that England remember but the precision is there.

“It’s pretty unbelievable really. It’s not sunk in,” Broad reflected when Australia had been removed in 111 balls – the shortest first innings in Test history – and he had become the first bowler since 1913 – Sydney Barnes’ comparatively prosaic 5 for 25 – to claim five wickets before lunch on the first morning of a Test.

As he spoke, a golden sunshine broke out overhead and kissed the Trent Bridge outfield. “There won’t be much sun,” Broad insisted. But there was, and England flourished beneath it. Broad may or may not win his perennial struggles with injury to reach 400 Test wickets but the uncertainties do not extend to the question of whether he will ever find a purer form of perfection than this. It just doesn’t exist.

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